Jagex is one of the oldest names in free-to-play games, having launched RuneScape in 2001.
MCV talks to the firm's Tim Hodges and Neil McClarty for their insight into the modern free-to-play gaming market the modern free-to-play market...
We're in the midst of the F2P boom. How do you make your games stand out in a competitive marketplace?
Tim Hodges, brand director, Transformers Universe:There's no substitute for good gameplay. A bad F2P game won't get played. You don't have that: ‘I've spent 40 so I'm going to get 40 out of it' mentality with F2P gamers. Obviously having a good game is the foundation. After that it's a case of having a good angle, or something unique that's going to hook consumers. On Transformers Universe we're lucky enough to have those things and an IP that people are already familiar with.
Neil McClarty, global marketing manager, RuneScape:With such competition these days you have to do something unique or have the cash to get noticed. Optimisation and listening to the player base is crucial. The beauty of today's market is that you don't need to get it right first time. Launch, listen, tweak and go again.
Consumers have the choice to invest as much or as little money into F2P games. Is the promise of new content enough? How do you encourage players to spend?
Hodges: It's rarely about new content. That is what tends to drive subscription games. Gamers are encouraged to use micro-transactions because they let the time poor keep up with the time rich. They are also a way for players to access interesting items that enhance a play experience, but they need not unbalance the game.
McClarty: Content is – and will forever be – king. Make a fun, engaging game and money will come.
"There's no substitute for good gameplay. A bad
F2P game won't get played. You don't have that:
‘I've spent 40 so I'm going to get 40 out of it'
mentality with F2P gamers. Obviously having a
good game is the foundation. After that it's a case
of having a good angle, or something unique that's
going to hook consumers. On Transformers Universe
we're lucky enough to have those things and an IP
that people are already familiar with."
Tim Hodges, Jagex
With no cost or obligation to play, F2P gamers are regarded as casual. But many play for longer than console gamers. Who is the typical F2P customer?
Hodges: F2P games have changed from casual flash and shallow mobile games to much more elaborate and in-depth experiences across multiple platforms. As the types of games that fall into F2P have changed, so has the player base. F2P has the same mix of players as you'd see in console gaming.
McClarty: The market is serving a much broader audience. My mum and fiance play games, but neither would have paid to do so before, but now they can because it's free. Most gamers are casual these days as a result of less disposable time and more entertainment choice available.
There's been a spree of TV ads for F2P games. Why invest in marketing such as this?
Hodges: Increasing popularity amongst non-gamers is certainly part of the reason for the growth in F2P?TV spots. A lot of these games are looking for new ways to attract consumers to games.
With most F2P models you only convert a small part – two to five per cent – of your audience to paying. If you want financial growth then you need to drive in large numbers through the top of that funnel. There's only so many places where you can go to drive more traffic to your product once you've tapped into that typical core gamer group.
The low barrier to entry on F2P, coupled with the less than strenuous hardware requirements, mean that a wider audience is more willing to take a chance on a game.
GAME launched its new F2P initiative earlier this year. What place is there for F2P titles like RuneScape at retail?
McClarty: Visiting a shop to buy something which is inherently free is a bit of an oxymoron. But retail has a huge part to play. People want to shop around before they buy and retail needs to become that window into the wide range of games now available. Bundles and in game incentives can drive footfall back to retail too, but it's a monumental task.